Purple Goldfish

Winning Customer Loyalty with a Fresh Marketing Approach

As the product marketing landscape becomes increasingly noisy, strategic experience design is key for brands to differentiate. According to Stan Phelps of 9INCH Marketing, it takes what he calls a “purple goldfish” to stand out in a “sea of sameness”.

A veteran experience architect and author, Stan has helped dozens of brands uncover their “purple goldfish” to win the hearts of customers by delivering memorable experiences. Stan pushes companies to rethink how they market to customers by identifying opportunities for investment in smart experience design, rather than traditional marketing tactics, to retain and nurture their most valuable customers.

I sat down with Stan to hear what it is about goldfish that inspires better experience design, and how brands can put their marketing dollars to better use simply by changing the way they think.

The Purple Goldfish

Stan likens goldfish to businesses: While some remain tiny and have momentary lifespans, others thrive and grow for years.

Among a handful of reasons for disparate growth, the genetic makeup of goldfish is the core reason some break records. In business, Stan says, the genetic makeup of a company can be likened to the differentiation points behind their product or services. Standing out with better experience design by thinking about the little things separates your product from the rest and enables long-term growth.

According to Stan, purple is subtly but surely associated with differentiation. The color pays homage to Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow,” encouraging businesses to find their differentiating point to truly be remarkable, and also the famed colors of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festivals. A bit of a history buff, Stan informed me that New Orleans was remarkable to a young Mark Twain for its tradition of giving “lagniappes”, or little unexpected gifts – which is exactly what Stan believes can make a business remarkable to its customers in the present day.

Lagniappes on a shoestring

Like Aarron Walter of MailChimp, Stan believes that brands that give customers a little something extra can have a truly profound effect to create a delightful experience. But contrary to the budget-wary inclination that these little gifts must come with a price tag, Stan explained that there are many cost-free levels of giving customers a lagniappe that will improve their experience.

If you’re looking to give customers a little something on a shoestring, here are just a few areas of your experience design Stan recommends exploring:

Follow up. How can you show customers you care? As Stan puts it, “Customers are more loyal to companies with a giving attitude – and less of a transactional mindset.” Ensuring the customer experience is continuing in a positive way after the payment’s been processed with something as simple as a phone call or a Vsnap can make them feel better about choosing your brand.

Convenience. How can you save your customers time? Taking steps out of the customer experience (think curb-service food pick up) helps them enjoy the experience quicker and more thoroughly.

Waiting. How can you ease the pain of the waiting game? Take a cue from Disney or Legoland lines to create something enjoyable before the main attraction (in web design we see this often goes best with a bit of humor, like Vizify does).



A sign at Legoland helps kids enjoy the experience, instead of focusing on the burden of waiting.




Vizify provides a little entertainment while you wait with clever quips.


Keeping it fresh

Of course there are still a breadth of options for delivering lagniappes that do come with a price. “Don’t look at these gifts as an expense,” says Stan. “Look at them as investment in marketing for the brand.” As with any marketing investment, evaluating and tweaking as needed is a critical part of making the investment mutually valuable for customers and your business.

A few tips Stan mentioned for ensuring your lagniappes remain “exceptional” rather than “expected”:

  1. Create an environment for testing and renewing ideas to ensure they are valued and move the needle for your business.
  2. Consider all angles for adding value to avoid becoming a one-trick-pony. Zappos does an exceptional job of ensuring delightful extras happen whether you’re coming or going (or returning).
  3. Leverage the unexpected – but don’t be shy about claiming a “signature” move. Sometimes consistency, like DoubleTree’s fresh chocolate chip cookies, can be the key to earning loyal customers.

Lastly, Stan cited Rackspace’s habit for “pushing the needle to the point of unscalability.” Motivating employees and designing your experience to do as much for customers as possible is the most certain way of standing out – beyond what any traditional marketing means ever could.

How is your business implementing lagniappes into the customer experience to differentiate?

  • Bill Gibeault

    Nice piece of work. Thanks for sharing. Bill G

  • Frank B.

    where businesses, I think, get lost is in perspective—each one starts out with providing something that is perceived as a customer need yet tends to get myopic and ends up only seeing the business from the business view—what does IT need to do to be successful, what do THEY need to do to keep costs down, etc…..this ends moving them away from the customer connection and weakens their business in the long run….excellent article, thank you

    • Great point, Frank. Leah Buley from Intuit made some good points about ensuring customer experience is truly customer/user-centric, too — it requires a deep organizational shift across the board but in the end, it’s the only way to stand out anymore.

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